Bedales 1894-1895, Captain Royal Field Artillery

Cyril was at Bedales for only one year from the Summer Term of 1894 to Easter 1895.  He had been born at home, 16 Tite Street, London, on 5th June 1885 and three days later his birth was registered by his father, Oscar Wilde.  Life for Oscar and his wife Constance was flamboyant, glittering and hectic; his plays and her writing brought them both publicity and notoriety.  Perhaps it isn’t surprising that census day 1891 found Cyril and his younger brother Vyvyan lodging in Deal, Kent, with their nurse, in the care of the Grosvenor brothers, sons of Lord Ebury, Richard, a barrister and Algernon an Insurance Agent.

Given their personal views it wasn’t unexpected that the Wildes chose the “new” school, Bedales, for their first born.  In November 1893 Constance wrote to her friend Georgina Mount-Temple that she had found the right school for Cyril.  She had seen an article in The Pall Mall Gazette (probably written by Mrs Badley’s brother Edmund Garrett) headed “A School without Tears; a chat about Bedales”.  In addition Constance was an enthusiastic supporter of women’s rights and an advocate of the Rational Dress movement; she would have been happy to entrust Cyril to Amy Garrett Badley. 

In 1891 Oscar had published a pamphlet, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”, expressing views more radical that John Badley’s Fabian Socialism but nonetheless causing them to have mutual acquaintances.  A little before his death “The Chief” told Gyles Brandreth (OB) that he had travelled back with Oscar from a house party in Cambridge where they had been fellow guests.  17 year old Gyles recorded his conversation with the 101 year old founder of Bedales.  JFB remembered:- “He was a delightful person, charming and brilliant, with the most perfect manners of any man I ever met.   Because of his imprisonment and disgrace he is seen nowadays as a tragic figure.  That should not be his lasting memorial.  I knew him quite well.  He was such fun.”

When the scandal about Oscar broke with his arrest on 6th April 1895, Constance took her children abroad.  Mr Badley sent Cyril’s last report to her and promised to investigate schools for him in the French-speaking areas of Switzerland.  Asked to leave a hotel because she had signed the register as Constance Wilde, the family unofficially adopted the surname Holland (a middle name of Constance’s brother and the maiden name of her maternal great grandmother).

Constance died in April 1898 and in the following year Cyril Holland was sent to Radley College where he had a successful sporting career, playing for several school teams and becoming a prefect.  In April 1903 he left school to prepare for admission to Sandhurst Military Academy.  Since his mother’s death he had made his home at 5 Cottesmore Gardens, Kensington, with his mother’s aunt Louisa Napier; he had been recorded there in the census of 1901 and gave it as his address when he applied for entrance to Sandhurst on 25th August 1903. His guardian Adrian Hope had to produce evidence of the legality of name change. It appears that Cyril was accepted by Woolwich rather than Sandhurst.

On 20 December 1905 Cyril was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery and made normal progress to a full Lieutenancy in 1908. The previous year he had qualified as an interpreter; in fact his German was almost fautless.  In 1911 he was seconded to India.  In June 1914 he wrote from India to his brother Vyvyan explaining that since 1900 “my great incentive has been to wipe (the) stain away; to retrieve, if may be, by some action of mine, a name no longer honoured in the land. The more I thought of this, the more convinced I became that, first and foremost, I must be a man. ... I am no wild, passionate, irresponsible hero. I live by thought, not by emotion.  I ask nothing better than to end in honourable battle for my King and Country.

He got his wish.  The Indian Army List records him at Secunderabad in August 1914 serving with the 9th Ammunition Column of the RFA. With the outbreak of war they were immediately ordered to France and on 30 October he was promoted to the rank of Captain.  During the second battle of Neuve Chappelle on 5th May 1915 he was killed by a shot from a German sniper.  His solicitor was informed that he had been buried at St. Vaast Post Cemetery, Grave A 1, situated about one mile North east of Richebourg St. Vaast.  The gravestone bears the name Cyril HOLLAND.

I am indebted to Radley College, Merlin Holland and Gyles Brandreth for information to supplement the material from the National Archives.

Photo kindly supplied by Radley College